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20.01.2020 Feature Article

Technical Universities’ Strike: Where Stands The Claims Of The National Council For Tertiary Education?

Technical Universities’ Strike: Where Stands The Claims Of The National Council For Tertiary Education?
LISTEN JAN 20, 2020

In response to the industrial strike action embarked upon by the Technical Universities Teachers Association, Ghana (TUTAG), the second in less than six months, the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) issued a press statement on the 8th of January, 2020. The four-page press statement sought to justify its roles, absolve itself from creating any form of impediments to the entire process to ensure that allowances which are the bone of contention are appropriately resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and finally, taint TUTAG as non-compliant and unable to provide required data to enable NCTE to do its part of the work. It is to these undeserving praises that NCTE allots itself that we find necessary to respond to by putting issues into perspective and also presenting the ground truths for the understanding of NCTE itself, the general public and other relevant Government agencies.

Technical Universities (TUs) are Public Universities as per ACT 922 / 974. The question that all should ask is, should it take strikes as we see ongoing for TUs to be paid deserving salaries and allowances, if and only if Government and NCTE recognize them as public universities? It is this very glaring posture that NCTE has displayed right from the outset of deliberations that has culminated into what we see, and, which could be worse except there is a change in behaviour on the part of NCTE and Government. Have you also wondered why NCTE and Government decided to negotiate salaries and allowances with TUs, when in actual sense, there exists a payment structure for public universities in Ghana? Meanwhile, NCTE has claimed that officeholders have been paid the requisite allowances. This is partly true because, yes, some officeholders have received some monies but not commensurate with that paid to public universities. Besides, the payment was flawed with omissions and wide disparities even for similar officeholders. Would you also be amazed to know that the VCs of TUs are not recognized as members of and are not receiving the same allowances and benefits as given to Vice-Chancellors, Ghana? If Government does not see the need to clean and clear these disparities and does not make effective its recognition of TUs as public universities, instead of pretending to, such sentiments will not cease, technical education will suffer and so will education and the development of the nation, Ghana.

It is most regrettable for NCTE to report that it is complying with the National Labour Commission’s (NLC) ruling. In its words, the NCTE said, ‘NLC ruled that the Technical University Teachers (Staff) should be paid the same allowances as applicable in the traditional public Universities by December 2019 and any arrears arising paid in January and February 2020 respectively’ (page 2 paragraph 4, January 8th, 2020 press statement). It appears that NCTE has its interpretation and time-lines regarding the ruling. It is not surprising that NCTE claims to have requested data when the fact is that the request was made a day to the effective date of payment ruled by the NLC. Is this not shameful? But why would NCTE show such gross disregard to the authority of NLC. It would do NLC a lot of good to assess the demeanor of NCTE. Besides, it

must be clear that not a single member of the TU fraternity is pessimistic about the commitment of Government to the needs and concerns of TUs. Notwithstanding, it is appropriate for the Government to eschew lip-service and a demeanor which suggests that TUs are undeserving of public university status. We also wish to indicate that no member of TUTAG is opposed to NCTE exercising its mandate. However, NCTE must ensure timeliness, fairness, truthfulness, respect for TUTAG and its members.

No member of TUTAG is confused about the State agency responsible for issuing payments hence neither the Union nor its members require such education from NCTE. Members of TUTAG also clearly understand that as a Council, NCTE contributes to the development and implementation of tertiary education in Ghana. Notwithstanding, to the extent that NCTE is using its privilege and authority to the detriment of the same purpose for which it was established, is worrying. The NCTE appears to be creating a notion of a headmaster for TUs especially and no other public university. Is it not also true that the NCTE conducted a staff audit of TUs and evaluated certificates of personnel when in actual sense it did not have the legitimacy to do so? Is it not true that NCTE by its powers rubbished certificates of some staff of TUs including UK masters when in reality staff of other public universities hold same and/or similar certificates for which NCTE is not determined to chase? Is it not also true that the NCTE shamefully had to swallow its pride when the UK Government through its embassy refuted the assertions of the former regarding certificates awarded by UK universities? It appears that NCTE has plans to make simple distances longer for TUs. This is exactly what we call impediments. If it is not the case, then why is NCTE not doing the same at other public universities? Is it that TUs are the soft side that NCTE can cause to submit to all their demands and including irrational demands?

In this very case of allowances, is it not true that TUs already receive allowances as responsibility, entertainment – for officeholders and rent, fuel, and maintenance for both office and all other senior members? The data used in the payment of all such allowance are real-time since payroll officers update such information every month with the CAGD. So, what's NCTE's beef? The only thing changing is the rate paid. What’s all the brouhaha about ‘we’ve requested for data and so forth?' If NCTE has any suspicion or intends to do something different, then, that should not have been used as the basis for none payment of the said allowances. In any case, which data did CAGD use in paying TUs in December 2019?

The NCTE in an attempt to praise itself pronounced three reasons why it needed the new data without which payments to TUs would not be approved and/or paid (page 2 paragraph 2, January 8, 2020 press statement). First, ‘.. a requirement of the due process and could not be side-stepped’. No TU, TUTAG and/or its members have begged NCTE to side-step any procedure or due process for payment. It is, however, worth asking, is the NCTE suggesting that Controller and Accountant Generals’ Department (CAGD) pays without following due process? In any case, all data used by CAGD for payment in December are current and up-to-the-minute. The second reason given was ‘..that the staff were being migrated onto a new payroll, that made the need for validation particularly pertinent’. Yes, but, what additional information could be obtained and would that have significantly varied from the one already submitted to CAGD in December 2019? Thirdly, that ‘key new appointments had been done for officeholders and some staff had been re- designated…' Previous officeholders do not continue to receive officeholders' allowances. This is the statutory practice.

We wish to echo that information provided to CAGD by payroll officers of TUs is up-to-the- minute. TUs have no difficulty submitting data of officeholders and senior members to NCTE but it is mind-boggling that even though such data is readily available and has always been, the regulator is having difficulty admitting that its reasons for failing to adhere to NLC’s ruling and the claim of the contrary are not tenable. Moreover, it is most unacceptable, unprofessional and malicious to say the least that TUs failed or refused to submit data to NCTE. The hypocrisy of NCTE is nauseating and it is so unethical of what is supposed to be a professional regulator of tertiary institutions.

The Government of Ghana headed by the President must put to question the behaviour of NCTE regarding this matter. NCTE's conduct is unnecessary, a precursor for chaos and unsuitable for developing tertiary education in Ghana. The NCTE's claimed that it has requested data from the TUs but has not received responses is partly true. However, we find NCTE’s posture most unfortunate, preposterous and a breach of trust. Payments were expected to be made to beneficiaries in December 2019. CAGD made its regular payment before 30th December 2019. The pay did not include the allowances for which NLC ruled. It was at the end of December 2019 that NCTE circulated a memo for the submission of data. During that period, all public universities had officially recessed. It is thus most unfortunate that NCTE claimed that payment was not effected because of delayed and/or none submission of data.

The striking institutions became public universities in August 2016 by an Act of Parliament. How could the issues of salaries and allowance remain a bottleneck for which reason a strike became relevant? What prevented the NCTE from demanding for such data in 2016? Truly, the NCTE failed to effectively manage its role. However, it took it up to resist the TUs from fully achieving anything of a public university (whether NCTE admits this statement or not, this is the truthful perception of the TUs. This is emanating from intelligence gathered through engagements with, comments, and demeanor of the State actor).

Surprisingly, NCTE claims it was under pressure to fast track the migration of TUs to the public universities' pay structure. Wherefrom this pressure? Does it mean NCTE was not ready even after three years (i.e. since 2016) to put TUs on the proper pay scale? The more worrying reason alluded to by NCTE in their statement is that the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) was conducting a rationalization of Responsibility and Entertainment allowances for officeholders. Even if the claim is true, should it warrant none payment of the appropriate public university pay to TUs after three years of waiting? Can you imagine that NCTE asked the TUs to further wait till FWSC was ready to implement its outcome of rationalized allowance for officeholders before all workers of TUs receive appropriate public university salary? Does this notion explain why the NCTE did all things possible to impede any attempts, pleas, and suggestions made by the TUs to receive their due? A careful observation only portrays NCTE as a State actor who is determined to create impediments to hinder the progress of TUs either in its interest and/or another interested party.

The NCTE further claimed that after the rationalization of allowances was completed, they requested for data from the TUs. The NCTE provided a further detail which indicated that the rates were put together by the Vice-Chancellors, Ghana of which the Vice-Chancellors of the TUs are not members. Perhaps, there were no Vice-Chancellors of the TUs then. But as the NCTE

described it in its statement (page 3 paragraph 2), the rationalization was completed following the NLC’s ruling. We find this statement problematic. If there was no representation of TUs, then, it further strengthens the perception of TUs that NCTE led by Prof. Salifu Mohammed has very little or no regard for TUs.

There is no payroll officer, TUTAG executive or any office holder and/or staff who knows the rationalized rates. Is this the best or better approach to managing stakeholders? This is another flaw in the dealings of NCTE and the continual disregard of TUs is a gross mistake. It is not very clear whether the NCTE's strategy is to create confusion, anarchy, and instability at the TUs. In that case, the institutions will lose focus and stagger to grow. The conduct and approach of the Executive Secretary of NCTE is not in our interest neither would it be beneficial to the nation, hence, it is better for the Government to reconsider allowing him to remain in office.

It is also revealing for NCTE to report that 'TUTAG had also made the extension of these same allowances to them, based on rates to UPSA, the centerpiece of their case at NLC’. This statement of NCTE confirms that the said rationalization had been in existence way before the NLC ruling. Why then, pretend that something which is already existing was yet to be done, and use it as a basis for delaying the whole process of migration of TUs to public universities’ payroll? The NCTE has lied and continues to affirm the perception of TUs that it is up to impede the progress and growth at the TUs. The request of TUTAG for rates paid to UPSA was made to NCTE and it only became an issue when the parties had engaged in several negotiations without finding any headway. Besides, until the coming into being of the TUs, UPSA was already paid by CAGD. This made UPSA a good reference point since most of the other public universities are not paid directly by CAGD. We wish to make a categorical statement that members of TUTAG were and remain displeased with the leadership when it came to light that they had requested for extension of UPSA rates to it. If NCTE is forward-looking, wants TUs to admit that it has good intentions and that the NLC’s ruling only affirmed the planned parity of prestige, why did it find it unfavourable to extend rates paid at UPSA to the TUs?

There would not have been a need for NLC had NCTE heeded to the request of the TUs. The NCTE must also understand that the mainstay of the matter presented to NLC was to effect payment of public universities allowances to TUs and not necessarily what pertains to UPSA. However, if rates received at UPSA are the public universities rate, then it is admissible. It is this simple and straight stand of TUTAG that NCTE has been trying to overturn. If the NCTE also viewed the stand as simple, we are convinced that they would not have had any difficulty with it. In any case, TUTAG would have expected NCTE to have rather suggested paying the rates at UPSA. One other important aspect of the NCTE's conduct that beats imagination is its engagement of TUTAG and other TU unions in negotiations. These have taken several months. Why negotiate if there are already existing approved rates? Again, NCTE must be made to answer why it engaged TUTAG and other Unions in negotiations when in actual sense, there is public universities' pay structure. This we find a gross waste of resources; time, money and precious lives of Union leaders having to travel severally to Accra for negotiations.

The NCTE also raised another matter of concern to TUTAG, books and research allowances paid to public universities. The claim that the TUs received the same rates as other public universities is not factual. An additional amount of GH¢ 500 more was paid to the existing public universities.

How about that and where is the parity of prestige? In any case, TUs are expectant that NCTE will do the needful regarding this allowance.

The NCTE also claimed in their statement that, ‘We are happy to confirm that the payments to the validated officeholders have since been duly made'. Yes, we can sadly confirm that some officeholders received some form of supplementary payments. Other officeholders have not received any of such payments as NCTE is claiming. That said, for the same position of officeholders, for instance, Head of Department, the rates were not consistent (intensifying the confusion). After taking that long to pay, it was expected that the due diligence of NCTE would have achieved an error-free sheet. However, that was not the case. The more surprising is that, of all the payments made to some officeholders, none met the known rates paid to office holders at UPSA (even if that is the base). What is NCTE up to? Where is the parity of prestige?

For TUs, we are clear in our minds and have aligned our actions as public universities. On the other hand, it is the NCTE who seems confused and thus muddying the waters with all manner of irrelevant interferences. NCTE should focus on ideas that would enhance the operations of the TUs and not these litigations. The Council must always act in fairness without disadvantaging any party.

Is it not baffling for NCTE to suggest that TUTAG and its members caused the delay of the same process that eventually will inure to their benefit? Again, NCTE attempted to suggest that TUTAG and its members are reluctant to follow due process. The CAGD undertakes due diligence every month before pays are issued. Unless the NCTE is suggesting that both the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and CAGD fail to undertake the due process in issuing monthly payments. On the contrary, TUTAG and TUs have noticed the intentional efforts of NCTE to drag the process to cause delays.

Technical Universities are developing programs to march their mandates and also, restructuring and aligning their agenda to meet the new focus. These suggest clarity of understanding as public universities. TUs do not need to be told this. The reason why NCTE continues to trumpet the agenda of parity is that it is using the same agenda to rather push TUs to look like a second choice public universities. The NCTE, in the interest of Ghana and tertiary education, must ensure that it refrains itself from any unjustifiable actions against TUs. If there is anything that the NCTE is expected to clarify, it is a formal communication on the following to the TUs:

  1. The rationalized rate of each category of allowances payable to officeholders at the public universities,
  2. The rationalized rate of each category of allowances payable to all senior members and other staff of public universities,
  3. The effective date of implementation and
  4. The schedule for the payment of arrears.

In conclusion, TUTAG and all staff of the TUs have clarity of thought and purpose. If an Act of Parliament gives recognition to TUs as public universities, there is no debate about that. The parity of prestige is the creation of NCTE and it has to see to that. Strategies to enhance partnerships, promote quality of training, equal access to educational resources by students and lecturers irrespective of the institution of affiliation should be what NCTE must be seen to be championing.

Written by

Dr. Bismark Quarku Parker (Senior Lecturer, Kumasi Technical University) and

Ing. Andrews Danquah (Chairman, TUTAG, Kumasi Technical University)